Enabling sustainable mobility with alliances at the regional level, by Reha Tözün and Bart Kamp.
Never before have cities had so much know-how and so many capable tools at their disposal to develop sustainable mobility systems. The current state of commercially available technologies is sufficient to provide for a wide range of new sustainable urban mobility solutions, which create new mobility services that together enable the altered mobility patterns – with unprecedented capacity in revealing and steering user behavior in view of, for example, lower environmental impacts. A shining example is the floating carsharing deployment in the city of Stuttgart based on a 450-strong fleet of Smart fortwo electric vehicles. Eight months after its launch, the customer base reached 20,000 and over 1m km were driven on pure battery power.
Yet, we have to admit that electrical vehicles still have trouble competing with conventional vehicles in terms of sales. While manufacturing an electrical vehicle (“internal costs”) is more costly than a conventional car and thus comes to market at a higher price, electric vehicles are competing with a disadvantage as long as the “external costs” of established transport modes are not fully internalized into their cost structures. Moreover, the cult of ownership of cars that has become installed in the mind of the average (European) car driver holds many citizens back to embrace carsharing concepts. As a consequence, structural and behavioural lock-ins continue to make it difficult to change established mobility patterns and users’ choices.
To overcome this kind of “deadlock”, it is indicated to provide facilities both for vehicle sharing and for multimodality to make different transport modes interoperable and interconnected (e.g. via “transferia” and other multimodal hubs). In several larger cities in Europe and especially for younger age groups this scenario is turning into a reality, and passengers enjoy a new kind of liberty: freed from the chores and costs of owning a car in urban areas while remaining mobile. Nevertheless, many urban areas are yet to launch new mobility services. To achieve this, the public sector cannot and should not develop or impose these solutions on its own and private/market actors have to be involved from the beginning as co-creator and user. In particular private enterprises have to invest in new mobility solutions, despite the entry costs they may bring along and the requirement to engage in new partnerships with actors from unfamiliar business domains. The difficulty here is to overcome the vested interests and network that barriers hamper the cooperative action.
The spectrum of essential stakeholders in furthering these new sustainable mobility systems is quite vast: local authorities, vehicle manufacturers, technology suppliers, utility providers, mobility management firms and academic institutions, to name a few. These actors often come in from significantly different backgrounds and have limited prior experience with each other in the given context.
Even when all parties are convinced of the necessity of an act, it may not suffice to move the group in the same direction and at the same pace. For instance, utility firms and vehicle manufactures have since decades been tied to each other as the former supplied the latter with energy resources to feed the needs of automotive factories. However, this relationship had more of an input supply character and less one of co-development or co-makership. In the present context, both parties are bound to try and develop seamless and affordable ways of supplying power to electrical vehicle owners through roadside charging infrastructure. To get there will take time, effort and moderation in order to put all the pieces together and make them fall into the right place.
More importantly, sustainable mobility solutions require actors to accept new solutions and modus operandi that differ significantly from their existing ones, where the risk of cannibalizing their current earnings model is a serious one. Predictably, this new path may eventually lead to changes in the power balance between established actors and allow complete newcomers to come to the scene. This brings us to the age-old dilemma of how and why established firms place their bets or not on potentially disruptive innovations.
The Stuttgart Region shows how – despite these barriers – a sustainable mobility agenda can be implemented at the regional level. In spite of being a location where deeply woven economical and organizational interests are vested in the combustion engine technology, the Stuttgart region has been developing itself as one of the most active locations for sustainable mobility in Germany, if not in Europe.
In practice, the region has been putting together the pieces of a small but diversified “lead market”. Over 50 projects on electromobility and sustainable mobility are currently implemented with federal, state and regional co-funding, covering a broad spectrum of themes, for instance intermodality (“VVS-Mobilpass” and “Stuttgart services”), integration of zero-emission vehicles in public and private fleets, last-mile-home solutions (“NETZ-E2R”), integration of electric vehicles in homes and districts, to name a few. Here, not only the stakeholders from public, private and research domains work together, but also the different levels of the decentralized political landscape in Germany cooperate.
The example of Stuttgart Region reveals that three key ingredients are necessary to overcome prevailing market and network barriers: political intent across the different spatial levels of governance, financial incentives for the supply side and social capital at the regional level borne by institutionalized relations of trust and functioning networks.
The diversity of the issues at stake makes it near impossible for a single – national or regional – level of politics to deal with them appropriately. While the support from national politics creates a (“policy structuring” or “agenda-setting”) momentum for the topic in society, the many practical issues relating to implementing electromobility demand a steadfast (“actor-structuring” or “network-fostering”) political backing at the regional level.
Furthermore, the financial incentives addressed through cooperative projects and innovation support measures help to overcome the reluctance for investment in the matters at stake and create an ecosystem of research projects and teams, where different stakeholder groups interact and co-learn.
Finally, the trust capital of a region is a critical component for stimulating the formation of alliances and to avoid and moderate possible destructive conflicts that arise during the initial implementation of disruptive technologies and business models. A welcome side-effect of the institutionalized and nurtured regional social capital is how it quickens the location’s responses to economic and technological challenges in that it enables the involved actors to pursue shared objectives more effectively. Social capital can be “actively and purposely shaped” by network and cluster facilitators.
In Stuttgart Region’s example, it is the yield of decade-long efforts in cluster building activities, with an emphasis on creating local relations that can act as a catalyst and node for the development of trust and alliances across different stakeholder groups, hence helping to overcome network failures with regards to technology development.
As mentioned earlier, it is crucial that passengers are willing to adopt new forms of mobility behavior and to this end it is essential to create easy entry-points to new mobility patterns. In Stuttgart Region it is already possible to use publicly and privately managed modes of mobility, like the bus and tramlines as well as car-sharing services, by means of a new smart-card “VVS-Mobilpass”. A follow-up project “Stuttgart Services” is currently expanding on these services with an ambitious platform, where even non-mobility added value services will be made available to all users of public transport in Stuttgart Region.
FROM VISION TO REALITY
Based on what the Stuttgart Region and other member cities and regions of the Polis network show, it becomes clear that there is an impressive amount of effort in Europe to turn encompassing visions for sustainable and clean mobility into reality. Some serious challenges remain, for instance a ground-breaking disruptive innovation in battery-tech is yet to appear in full effect. Nevertheless, an impressive mix of technologies is now within reach, most importantly in connectivity, which should make it possible to realize many of the advanced urban mobility visions that have been shaped over the years.
The bigger task is to win people over, not only because raising their awareness of acting against climate change becomes an imperative, but also on account of the effectiveness and reliability of the new sustainable mobility modes that are coming to market. Last but not least, European enterprises can find in new mobility demand a market that can lay the basis for co-developing new business models, with substantial potential for subsequent global roll-out.
Reha Tözün, PhD, is Senior Project Manager, Stuttgart Region Economic Development Corporation, Stuttgart, Germany.
Bart Kamp, PhD, is Head of Strategy Department at the Basque Institute of Competitiveness – ORKESTRA, Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve – Louvain School of Management (IAG), San Sebastian, Spain.